What will we eat in 2019?
If our nation's prognosticators have their say, we'll be crunching on salads of celtuce, a lesser-known green, mixed with either high-end bespoke vegetables personally designed by chefs, or virtuous ugly produce destined for the trash. Maybe they'll be topped with a crunch of chulpe corn or watermelon seeds. We'll tear into interesting forms of bread -- bing, from China, and manaeesh, from the Levant. There will be CBD (canna-bidiol in everything, smokeless smoke in everything, and real milk in nothing -- not in our milkshake IPAs, which are not what they sound like (they're brewed with lactose) -- because pea milk and oat milk are taking over.
"Regional flavors" will be important, specifically those from India, the Pacific Rim and "the 'stans" -- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Plant-based eating will continue to grow. Some products that were formerly shelf-stable, such as granola bars and olive oil, are going to need to be refrigerated. It will be a good year for dietitians, who are poised to become the new celebrity chefs. We'll pay for our sandwiches with cryptocurrency, as if that's no big deal.
What is a trend, anyway? There's no set way to measure one, no threshold of sales or number of products on the market past which a food becomes Certifiably Trendy, especially because food trends, as with fashion, trickle down into mainstream ubiquity. There's just a bunch of market researchers and food industry consultants and publicists and journalists, a little bit of data, a looming Dec. 31 deadline and an intangible notion of what feels cool and new.
"The science to predicting a trend is to figure out, what is actually happening here? Is it just now, is there some sort of immediacy to it or does this actually have a longevity?" says Jenny Zegler, associate director of food and drink for consumer research company Mintel. "And, what does that mean, and what is that reflective of, in terms of what consumers want?"
Some trend lists come from huge teams of professional trend-spotters and industry-watchers, and some come from just one person with a finger on the pulse. But all of the predictions tend to fall into one of four categories. In the first category are the vague, evergreen, massive buzzword trends -- such as "plant-based foods" and "specialized diets" -- that will always and never be trends, because they're so all-encompassing. But don't count them out, says Zegler, whose report for Mintel pinpoints three trends: sustainability, foods for healthy aging and enhanced convenience foods.
"I think a lot of what we're trying to do is identify things that are already happening," Zegler says.
What many of us think of as trends, such as Thai rolled ice cream or "souping" or cake pops, are actually fads.
"A fad is something that kind of comes quick and goes and maybe makes a viral sensation," says Zegler, but a trend has staying power. Something that is really affecting, "especially in a business sense, that you know if you're going to switch to make everything this new cool flavor, you want to make sure that it's the flavor that's going to last."
But calling a major cultural force already at play within the industry a trend has another benefit: You can never be wrong. That extends to things that Zegler would call fads, too: Among this year's lists, there are predictions that za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) and orange wine and CBD will become trendy. They're in the second category -- specific "predictions" that are already trendy, in some circles, at least.
That's the other tricky thing about trend lists: Whom are they for? When food writers, who tend to live in coastal cities, see a list that predicts rainbow-colored unicorn food as the next hot thing, they might think it's hopelessly outdated. Meanwhile, if you go by sales figures, that trend is still making its way throughout the country: It was one of the most-searched food trends on Google this year, and it hit mainstream ubiquity, perhaps, when Sam's Club began selling a unicorn cake.
"We used to say facetiously that when something appeared on a Marriott menu, you knew the trend was over," says Michael Whiteman, president of Baum & Whiteman, a restaurant consulting group.
Whiteman's list says the big trends for next year will be more widespread culinary use of robots, an escalation of the "meal kit wars," katsu sandwiches, Szechuan hot pot, and the aforementioned bing and food from the 'stans -- the latter, something that Whiteman has noticed becoming rapidly popular throughout Brooklyn, where so many trends begin.
"Could I be wrong on that? I certainly could," he says. That's the third category: Trends that may or may not take off -- who knows? Whiteman's list comes from travel, his many years of experience and intuition.
The end-of-the-year list rush is real. "Over the past 10 years, the number of people making predictions online has probably quintupled," says Whiteman, in part because journalists write about them (guilty). And, any company can use a food trend list as a branding and engagement opportunity, which is why you see lists from Google and Chase Bank.
Some might have an agenda: When Arkansas-based Tyson, the country's largest meat producer, predicts protein from animal and alternate sources will be very important in 2019, it's not wrong: We've been seeing more and more meat and protein snacks on the market, and more innovation in the "motherless meat" realm. But both sides of the coin benefit Tyson: The company continues to produce fresh and frozen chicken, and has also invested in Beyond Meat, which makes plant-based burgers.
"I don't think any list is 100 percent objective, because we all have dreams of what we'd like to see," says Bret Thorn, senior food and beverage editor for Nation's Restaurant News.
Straddling the line, industry-watchers say, is Whole Foods -- which, yes, uses its year-end list to promote its products, but also has its finger on the pulse. This year, the company is predicting good things for eco-friendly packaging, exotic ice cream, and snacks made of ocean greens beyond seaweed.
The fourth category, of course, is trend predictions that seem to hit the perfect sweet spot: Still under the radar enough, but gaining momentum, and poised to take off. For this year, that might include Peganism (paleo veganism), lab-grown meat, shelf-stable probiotics (active beneficial bacterial cultures in foods that don't need to be refrigerated), as well as healthful desserts made with such ingredients as taro pudding and quinoa.
"I tend to look at what the independent [restaurants] are doing, because that tends to be where trends start," Thorn says. "If they make it into the smaller chains, we really have something going. ... If it goes to casual dining, like TGI Fridays, if it makes to fast food, like McDonald's, it's a thing."
Trends are " something that people want to be part of," Zegler says. "They want to be part of that leading edge. They want to be the first one in their friend group to identify this."
Most of all, she says, "They want to be able to post on Instagram."
Weekend on 01/03/2019
Print Headline: 2019 food: CBD everything, bing, cheltuce, regional fare